Finding the right person to help you get better from sciatica is hard. I’m not talking about just a bit of a challenge, but a complete minefield.
I’ve spoken to countless clients who have spent literally thousands of pounds or dollars on finding a healthcare provider who can actually help them – only to be let down time and time again. Often, these people are left worse off, physically and financially, than when they started their search.
Sometimes, the pain from making yet another wrong decision about an investment on your health is WORSE than the pain of the sciatica itself. Can you relate?
I totally understand how difficult it is. It only takes a quick Google search to be inundated with promises of quick fixes and ‘fast pain relief’ at your local chiropractic clinic, only to find it’s anything but that when you get there. It’s not always their fault – many physical therapists, chiropractors and doctors truly believe they can give people with sciatica rapid relief… But whether they can or not in the real world is another matter.
It’s absolutely true that sciatica is a challenging condition for us to treat as healthcare providers; that’s why so many struggle. But it’s also true that there IS a correct way to go about getting people with sciatica better. And it involves far more than the simple “back stretches” you’ll get on a sheet of paper from many physical therapists.
Today, I want to give you the tools to find someone who can really, truly help you get better from this awful condition.
Naturally, I’d love it if you chose me and my programs as your solution (especially with my new online course – The Total Recovery Program – out now)! But I understand that isn’t the right way forward for many people reading this right now. Maybe you’d prefer to be seen in person and guided face-to-face. That’s completely understandable – and that’s what I want to help you with today: finding the right person so you don’t waste your valuable time and money.
I’m going to give you a checklist that you can use for finding the right person to help you. Remember, you have SO much choice these days! You should NEVER have to accept substandard care. And if you use my checklist and find someone who matches all the criteria, then you’re onto a winner.
I’m also going to give you the exact scripts you can use over the phone today when ‘interviewing’ a prospective healthcare provider. These scripts will help you to make the right decision when entrusting your health into someone else’s hands.
Let’s get going!
The Good Provider Checklist
Below are the 6 key attributes you need to find in a healthcare professional before you let them lay a finger on you.
Without all 6 of these attributes you’ll be left short-changed, disappointed and maybe even worse off than before. But don’t worry! There are lots of people around that have these qualities in abundance. You just have to spend a bit of time looking for them. However, the rewards are well worth the effort.
#1 – They have knowledge about sciatica and a proven track record
This is perhaps the most important pre-requisite of someone who you should be entrusting with your health: knowledge of the condition itself.
A lot of this knowledge is gained through experience, but this doesn’t necessarily mean you need someone in the twilight of their career. Remember, the training at universities today is far more advanced and up-to-date than it used to be.
What you’ll absolutely need to ensure though, is that they have successfully taken people from completely crippled by sciatica to fighting fit, again and again. It’s not one-off success we’re looking for, but consistent results.
You’ll be able to tell without having to trawl through their online testimonials and reviews (although this is a good place to start). You see, for a healthcare professional with little experience, treating someone with sciatica can be terrifying. There aren’t many conditions that can put people in quite so much pain as sciatica.
It’s like an inexperienced mechanic being entrusted with fixing a Ferrari. Sure, he knows the theory behind how he should fix it. But is he concerned he might get something wrong and make the car worse? You bet he is.
Does a top performing specialist worry about his treatment approach like this?
You’ll know if you’re speaking to a true specialist because they will be sympathetic but not surprised at how much pain you’ve been suffering with. Most importantly, they’ll be completely calm as you explain your symptoms – not furrowing their brow when you mention that numbness in your foot.
#2 – They understand that sciatica isn’t the same as an ankle sprain
When I worked in professional football, we would see ankle sprains nearly every week.
I would be able to tell the manager, with a considerable degree of accuracy, exactly how many days that player would miss because of their ankle sprain. Most of the time, I’d be right.
However, with sciatica, this simply isn’t possible.
That’s because sciatica is far more complicated than a sprained ligament in the ankle. Sciatica is caused by a combination of physical and chemical changes, and needs to be treated with a different level of understanding.
You need someone who knows sciatica inside and out. When you’re treating an ankle sprain, you can get away with only knowing the basics. However, this isn’t the case with sciatica.
You can find out whether your potential provider knows their stuff quite easily. Ask them to explain your symptoms to you. If they struggle to tell you why you’re suffering as much as you are, you might want to reconsider them and find someone else.
#3 – They can empathise with what you’re going through and understand YOUR goals
Oh my goodness – if I had a pound for every time someone told me about a terrible experience they’ve had with an insensitive healthcare professional, I’d be writing this article from a beach in Barbados right now.
Empathy is one of the most important skills to seek in someone who can help you get better. They don’t have to have suffered from sciatica themselves – but they do need to be able to put themselves in your shoes. I’ve found that doing this regularly has been my best tool for finding inspiration for what to include in my courses and books. It helps me choose content that REALLY helps – and avoid things that you don’t give a crap about!
You tell me, what’s better? Someone who says “I’m going to centralise that L5 disc bulge and minimise inflammation…”
…Or: “We’re going to do x, y and z so you can finally walk along the beach again with your partner after missing out on that every day for the last 8 weeks. How does that sound?”
Technically, these two people are talking about the same thing. It’s just one means so much more to you and your life than the other.
Being able to empathise means putting things in YOUR words, and showing some human connection, so you can understand exactly why the plan they’re asking you to follow is going to help.
It certainly does not mean giving you another prescription of pills with absolutely no explanation of what they do and how they help. Remember, you deserve more than that. And in 2019, you can certainly get it.
#4 – They’ll give you the TIME you need to get better
When I worked for the NHS, I would always get asked “how many sessions am I allowed?”
I used to always say “as many as it takes,” and watch my client’s shoulders relax as they exhaled a deep sigh of relief.
When you’re dealing with sciatica, you shouldn’t be rushed through your treatment. It takes as long as it takes. Some will get there quicker and some will take longer.
The same goes for the sessions themselves. How many times have you been in a doctor’s office and noticed them fervently looking at their computer clock when you speak about more than one problem?
Even worse, some doctors near me now start their sessions with: “Right, you have 3 minutes. How can I help?” – Utterly dreadful!!
There ARE people out there who are willing to give you the time of day. I get that the hospital systems are under massive pressure to get people in and out as quickly as possible; but a bit of patience goes a LONG way (and is often the sign of someone who is invested in getting you better, not just getting their next patient in).
If you feel rushed, calmly explain that you have “x many” more questions. This will help stop the restless shuffling. If they continue to rush you, fire them and find someone else.
#5 – They understand that pain killers AREN’T a long term solution
Do pain killers play a role in sciatica? Yes.
Should they be used anywhere near as much as they currently are? Not in a million years.
You see, pain killers aren’t a long term fix. They mask the problem, rather than make it better. The only thing that can fix the underlying problem is the power of your own body.
And I don’t mean that in a “happy-clappy-positive-mind-set” way. I mean your body has the power to beat sciatica, 99% of the time. It just needs the right conditions to be able to do its job.
Long-term fixes are brought about by creating these conditions, through exercises, diet and positive lifestyle changes. Medications should be for short-term relief only. Anyone who tells you otherwise doesn’t have the tools to help you, so you should pass up on them and find someone else.
#6 – They have methods that won’t make you worse
Who reading this has been to see someone who told them to do “this stretch” or “let me click this” and walked out feeling a hundred times worse??
It happens all the time!
And it’s because sciatica is really, really easy to aggravate. Anyone who suffers from it knows as much.
Luckily, there are excellent healthcare providers out there who have ways and means to ensure that, 90% of the time, their clients don’t come out feeling worse.
If you leave a healthcare provider’s office feeling 10 times worse, something’s not right.
The one caveat to this is that on your first session, we often have to pull you and poke you in certain ways to be sure that it is indeed sciatica causing your problems. Many people do leave this appointment feeling worse. However, this should pass after a few hours and doesn’t mean they’ve done anything wrong.
The Scripts for Finding Mr or Mrs Right (Provider)
So, now we’ve covered what you need to look for in the healthcare provider who you’ll be entrusting with your recovery, I want to provide you with some scripts for two scenarios.
The first scenario is your first consultation with a doctor. This is where you’ll be getting a formal diagnosis, as well as being pointed in the direction of how to get help in your town. It’s quite an important appointment, but it shouldn’t be as daunting as it often seems.
The second scenario is the telephone ‘interview’ you’ll be having with a local provider who is promising to solve your problem.
Yep, that’s right. I said interview.
And let’s get this straight. You should be interviewing them. It’s a big decision and you need to make sure you’re getting it right.
Why wouldn’t you put as much thought into choosing the right solution for your health as you do when choosing the right house to buy, or the right school to send your kids? After all, it’s you that has to live with the consequences.
Let’s look at the first scenario:
Script #1 – The Doctor’s Office
The goals of this interaction are to get a proper diagnosis, to make it clear you’re not looking to be put on pain killers for the next 10 years, and to tap into their valuable network of local professionals who can help.
Let’s look at how the consultation might go. Remember, you’ll probably be in and out in 10 minutes maximum, even in the most relaxed surgery in the country.
*You walk in*
Dr: “Hi there, what can I do for you today?”
You: “I’ve been suffering from x, y, z symptoms over the past few weeks/months. I think it may be sciatica but I’d really appreciate if you could take a look and give me your opinion?”
Dr: “Of course..”
[At this point, the doctor will ask some more questions about your symptoms, including a bit about your bladder and bowel habits. They’ll then ask you to do a few movements or lift your leg straight up in the air. Tell them if it hurts.]
Dr: “I agree – this is likely a case of sciatica you’re suffering with..”
[Your doctor may or may not explain sciatica to you now. They’ll likely say most cases go away on their own within a number of weeks, and to come back in 6 weeks if it’s no better. Remember – ask them to clarify their explanation if it you don’t understand.]
You: “Thanks for explaining that. I know pain killers aren’t the long term solution – after all, no one likes taking them – but do you think a short course may help in this instance?”
Dr: “Yes, probably, here’s a script for some pain killers.” OR “No, I think you’ll be better off with some physical therapy or over-the-counter medicine.”
[At this point, your doctor might refer you for physical therapy. That’s fine – but still ask the final question on the script. If you’re in the UK and you go to an NHS physical therapist, it can be hit and miss. Therefore it’s a good idea to have a back-up plan. It’s also up to you whether you accept the script for the pain killers. If you’re in tonnes of pain, I’d recommend you accept a short course and see how you get on.]
You: “One last thing – do you know anyone in this area who has great success with getting people with sciatica better, without injections or surgery?”
[Notice how you tell Mr Doctor that this is the last thing. By doing this, he’s less likely to rush you out. Doctors have a fear of the “patient who asks a hundred questions”, simply because of their time pressures. It’s respectful to acknowledge this by making them aware you won’t be making them late.]
Dr: “Well, I know a very good physical therapist that a friend with sciatica went to – I’d be happy to tell you where they’re based…”
[This is gold – doctors are fully aware of which private healthcare professionals are setting up around them, even if they themselves are NHS or in-network. They always want the best outcome for their patients – as this means you won’t need to come back a hundred times in the future! They might know someone who specialises in sciatica, so it’s always worth asking.]
Script #2 – Telephone call to the provider
OK, so this is a more important conversation – because this is with the person who you’ll be entrusting with your long-term health.
You’re going to need to speak to a healthcare professional over the phone. You’ll be asking them how they help people like you, as well as getting a feel for them as a professional and a person.
It’s fine (and even recommended) that you call at least 3 or 4 clinics before making a decision on a physical therapist or chiropractor that can help you.
Your first task is this: get the actual healthcare professional on the phone.
You won’t be able to get the right info from a front desk person. You’re going to need to ask for a call back from a physio or chiropractor. If the front desk refuses you this, then it’s a lucky escape as that’s a massive red flag for poor treatment in the future if they can’t even be bothered to speak on the phone before you come in. Remember, you have tonnes of choices!
OK, so now let’s assume you’ve got them on the phone:
You: “Hello. I’m wondering if you can help point me in the right direction: I’m currently suffering with what I believe to be sciatica – is this something you help people with?”
Them: “Yes, we help people with this all the time.”
You: “Great. Can I ask HOW you help people with sciatica?”
[At this point, you may get a pause. A lot of professionals may expect someone to just go “OK I’ll book now” once they tell them they can help. They won’t expect to be asked how!]
BAD provider: “… Well, we use a combination of stretching, strengthening and manipulation to align structures and blah blah blah…”
[This is a poor answer, but the one you’ll probably get. It doesn’t mean anything to you as a layperson and doesn’t help you very much. A far better provider will say the following:]
GOOD provider: “… Well, we’ll find out what you’re missing out on right now, and we’ll work together to get you better so you can get back to those things. That might include x, y and z treatment approach…”
[MUCH better! This person can connect on a human level and has at least SOME empathy.]
You: “OK, can you tell me how long this is likely to take?”
BAD provider: “Well, we’ll get you in and see how it goes…”
Another BAD provider: “It’ll probably take 2 sessions per week for 24 weeks and then maintenance every week for another year.”
[OK, so let’s break these answers down. The first one is too fluffy. This person may lack experience with sciatica and isn’t really confident on the effectiveness of their treatment approach. The second one is just ridiculous – but sadly, many get sucked in. It should NEVER take that many sessions to get sciatica better!]
GOOD provider: “Usually, it takes 3-4 regular sessions to feel a significant difference, then a few more spaced out sessions, depending on how well you’re doing and your goals. For some it will take longer, for others it will be quicker. We will be better able to tell following the first assessment.”
[Good answer – they gave you a ball park figure for number of sessions but acknowledged that everyone is different. In general, it can take around 3 to 4 sessions before you feel a change – that’s normal. But if they are suggesting it will be months before any progress, that’s a major red flag. The good example above also mentioned your goals again. Some people want to play impact sports again, while others just want to sit comfortably in the evening. Different goals, different needs.]
You: “Thanks for your time – I have one last question. Can you tell me about the last person you saw for sciatica? How much progress did they make?”
[OK – here you’re looking for a realistic story, without being dramatic on either end of the spectrum. If you get an answer like “they CRAWLED in and WALKED out after ONE session” then that’s probably B.S. so steer clear. There are professionals that can help people get better really fast – but they tend not to over-dramatize it on the phone. You also want to listen for how easily they recall their story – it’s difficult to make something like this up on the spot. ]
You: “OK, well that’s pretty much all I had. I need to go away and think about it. If I decide to pursue treatment, when would the next available appointment be? And just so I can be clear – how much are your sessions?
[Make it clear you need some space to reflect on the conversation and possibly compare to some other providers, too. By framing this BEFORE you ask when their next available appointment is, you’re taking control and showing them respect at the same time. Asking about price is important but it should be the last thing you consider when comparing practitioners. I understand most people are cash-strapped; but this decision is so vital, it’s not worth taking a risk over a $10 difference per hour.]
So, I hope this article has given you some useful tools to help you choose the right healthcare provider for your sciatica. Remember, it’s always easier to fight sciatica with the proper guidance, so don’t be shy to ask around and find the right person.
There ARE good providers out there; physical therapists, chiropractors, doctors and osteopaths alike. Use my checklist to find them!
Now, I want to hear your stories; have you seen any REALLY BAD providers?
Were there any warning signs before your bad experience? Leave your comment below and let us know!
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